Media companies use product testing and reviews to grow revenue, audience
World Congress Blog | 23 May 2023
People have always sought reliable sources to help them make buying decisions. Some news media companies are betting they can be that source.
As part of a two-day study tour kicking of the INMA World Congress of News Media, participants visited The New York Times’ Wirecutter, DotDash Meredith’s Travel + Leisure, and Gannett’s Reviewed.com. More than 100 media executives joined the study tour, one of three such tours visiting local 25 companies.
The companies explained their content and audience strategies:
Reviewed.com is Gannett’s main affiliate commerce business. The site provides buying guides and comprehensive reviews of consumer products like appliances, electronics, and household staples.
Scott Stein, vice president and general manager of content ventures, told study tour attendees that 78% of its traffic comes from search, drawing readers who intend to purchase. The company then earns a commission by driving readers to affiliate retailers.
The site produces 20 to 25 articles per day written by editorial staff who research products in the company’s testing lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Providing detailed, trustworthy research fills a real need, Stein said, particularly with younger audiences, noting 97% of Millennials read online reviews before purchasing.
“Ultimately, we think that consumers are looking for experts to help them alleviate the anxiety that comes with purchases,” Stein said. “Human beings are pretty good at that because they have empathy.”
It’s possible to balance the commission-based business with the audience’s need for honest reviews, in part because Reviewed.com is transparent about its affiliate links, Stein said. He also noted the site never elevates one product over another based on commission deals and that the company takes its rigorous, hands-on research seriously.
“How do we maintain editorial independence when we have these strong business ties? They aren’t incompatible,” he said. “If we can’t independently recommended them, we don’t have to have an affiliate link.”
In fact, Stein said, the close relationship with partners has actually inspired improvements to products themselves–in at least one case, a flaw found in Reviewed’s testing led a manufacturer to make a fix.
Travel + Leisure
At DotDash Meredith’s Travel + Leisure, 16 baby bouncers line the walls of an empty testing lab. In a different room several, brands of protein powder will be compared to one another, as well another of their most frequently reviewed products: hair dryers.
The company’s testing team has grown from one to 200 since 2017. Responding to the oversaturation of online shopping, the testing and subsequent reviews helps shoppers navigate a seemingly endless supply of options.
DotDash Meredith has invested heavily in this vertical of content, consistent with company’s overall strategy of optimising what they know they do well and prioritising user’s needs. Their written reviews and videos explicitly lay out their methodology and choice of product, depending on a variety of factors.
All of these models are used (and abused, to measure their durability) by cosmetologists, chefs, and other experts in their facilities. This can involve throwing luggage off a landing to simulate how airline workers load planes, or placing a sandbag in an infant carrier to observe how it distributes weight.
At Wirecutter, much of the product testing is sent to homes and used in everyday situations in conjunction to the trials their team performs at their Long Island City facility. Often they enlist the power of the expanded New York Times network to get varied opinions from as many people as possible on, say, how firm or squishy a mattress is.
Whether pouring creamed corn in a dishwasher to gauge its cleaning power or tracking the efficacy of an air purifier by lighting a match and a windowless room, both platforms share the same core principle: Testers maintain an objective method, and all their findings are uninfluenced by business partnerships.
“Wirecutter provides a unique kind of service journalism that didn’t exist before,” Leilani Han, executive director of commerce, told INMA study tour members. According to Han, product testing reveals how much joy exists in the small details of a potential purchase and, more broadly, the minutiae of everyday life.
INMA World Congress of News Media continues through May 26.